Help or hindrance?

So a year in to Help to Buy, who has it helped and what has the impact been so far?

Those are the questions I set out to answer in my feature in this week’s Inside Housing. It concludes that the limited number of Help to Buy transactions seen so far cannot have been enough on their own to account for what’s happened in the market in its first year. What’s been far more significant is the impact on the behaviour of buyers, sellers and housebuilders of a signal from the government that it will do everything it can to generate a housing market recovery. That, combined with a range of other government policies (and non-policies) and the favourable environment of record low interest rates, has duly produced one.

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Why registration is the key for private renters

Can the votes of private renters swing the next election and move their concerns up the political agenda in the process?

The huge shift in housing tenure seen this century suggests they can. In 2000 just two million households in England were private tenants. According to the English Housing Survey, that had doubled to almost four million by 2012/13. Add another 500,000 in Wales and Scotland, allow for another two years of growth and, with 1.8 people of voting age per household, you have nine million potential private rented votes at the next election.

Polling by Generation Rent, the recently relaunched National Private Tenants Organisation, suggests that the votes of private renters could be decisive in 86 seats in England. Of these, 38 are currently held by the Conservatives, 32 by Labour, 15 by the Lib Dems and one by the Greens. The results here could be enough to deliver an overall majority for David Cameron, make Ed Miliband the leader of the largest party or give Nick Clegg a major say in a new coalition.

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Buy, buy, bye?

As George Osborne prepares for next week’s budget, even the people who’ve benefited are calling for changes to help to buy. But is he listening?

A survey out today finds that most mortgage lenders and brokers now believe that help to buy 2 – the more controversial mortgage guarantee element of the scheme – will be scaled back or scrapped before the official end date of 2016.

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Equity moans

In the furore over the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme, its equity loan counterpart has escaped much scrutiny. A report out today changes that.

Help to Buy 1 started in April last year. Equity loans worth more than £500 million households were made in the first nine months of the scheme to almost 13,000 households. Another 9,600 loans were in the pipeline. If everything goes to plan over the next two years, 74,000 households will eventually benefit from equity loans worth £3.7 billion.

Today’s report from the National Audit Office (NAO) makes you remember that although it is small by comparison with the £12 billion of mortgage guarantees offered by its more controversial sibling, Help to Buy 1 is significantly bigger than the FirstBuy scheme that it replaced.

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Double shift

Figures published today underline yet again the historic change in the way we are housed in England.

Headline results from the English Housing Survey for 2012-13 confirm not just one but two remarkable trends: there are now more private tenants than social tenants; and there are about to be more outright owners than people buying with a mortgage.

For more on this plus graphs read my post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Appearance and reality in the 2014 housing market

Combine one ex-PR man prime minister with one lucky homebuyer who’s also an estate agent, then add one ex-teacher turned buy-to-let mogul. Welcome to the New Year recipe for housing, where perceptions are everything.

David Cameron used Help to Buy as a metaphor for the Conservative message about economic recovery and opportunity for all when he took part in a photo op in Southampton with a young mum and her toddler and had tea in the new home she’s just bought through a government scheme.

It seemed standard, if rather awkward-looking fare, until this post appeared on the internet claiming that the young mum, Sharon Ray, was actually Sharon O’Donnell, a sales director with the estate agent that allegedly sold the home. That was followed by a typically sexist story about the ‘attractive blonde’ in the Mail and this corrective about some exaggerations and errors in the original post. Cue a Twitterstorm and debate between those seeing the whole thing as an example of Tory fakery and those outraged by the hounding of a young woman who’d done nothing wrong.

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While you were away

Not everything stops for Christmas and New Year. I’ve just written a post for Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing, on what’s happened in housing over the break.

The post features government guidance on housing allocations for local people, a House of Commons Library note on housing supply, an FT report on David Cameron’s fading interest in garden cities, a 5 Live programme on the housing market in 2014, James Meek’s London Review of Books essay on housing plus the latest on the bedroom tax.

Read more here.


10 things about 2013: part 2

Here’s the second part of my look back at the key themes I’ve been blogging about this year.

6) Help to Buy

If the bedroom tax was the subject I blogged about most in 2013 (see Part 1 of this blog), Help to Buy was certainly the best (or worst) of the rest.

The first hints of the scheme came in January as the coalition published its Mid-Term Review. Perhaps conscious of the gap between rhetoric and reality when it came to the government’s record on housing, David Cameron promised more help for people who cannot raise a deposit for a mortgage, with details to come in the Budget. By March Cameron and Clegg were promising what sounded to me like the coalition’s fourth housing strategy in three years. And in the Budget George Osborne duly announced what I called a huge gamble, loosening the targeting of previous schemes at first-time buyers and new homes and extending the help available much further up the income scale.

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Gloomy forecast

It’s the time of year for predictions and the prospects do not look good for anyone struggling to get on to the housing ladder or afford their rent.

The latest Home Truths report from the National Housing Federation predicts that house prices in England will rise by 35 per cent by 2020. However, the bad news does not stop there for the ‘huge swathe of the population locked out of home ownership for life’ because rents will rise by 39 per cent over the same period.

The latest RICS housing market survey, also out this morning, shows that prices again rose sharply while expectations for future growth have risen to their highest level since 1999.

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Blaming the planners

Fix planning and you fix supply, fix supply and you fix the housing crisis. That’s the seductive argument that seems to be gaining ground.

My problem with it is not that it’s wrong. There is a dire shortage of new homes: completions are running at around half what’s needed to meet demand. Problems with the planning system can make supply too slow to respond to demand, constrain growth and make the crisis worse. It would be ridiculous to say otherwise.

It’s more that it’s too simple. It takes a kernel of truth and claims that it is the only truth. In its crudest form the argument is that all we have to do is sweep away ‘socialist’ planning and leave it to the market: in the 1930s there was no planning, private housebuilders were building over 250,000 homes a year and homes were affordable; the post-war Labour government required planning permission for new homes and prices have risen steadily higher ever since because the private sector has been unable to build enough homes.

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